Probably the most interesting thing about the Brentwood Board of Education meeting Tuesday night was not what was said, but rather what wasn’t said—or answered—and that is: Why is McGrath Elementary School's principal Kathleen Behrmann being bounced from her job after eight years?
Parents peppered the board with comments and questions from their seats in the audience and in front of the microphone during an extended open comment period before the meeting and, again, at the end of the two-hour meeting.
Roughly 45 people attended the meeting. Eight parents spoke; some pointedly, like attorney Jim Malone, who has a child at McGrath.
He wanted to talk about the contract, and asked if Behrmann’s contract is being revoked to one year, or not being renewed?
“It was reported that (Mrs. Behrmann) was not being renewed, which would assume that a contract had expired,” Malone said. “It is my understanding that there is at least a strong possibility that she has a two-year contract and has another year to run. If that’s the case, if she is not leaving voluntarily, then the school board is not renewing her contract. They are terminating her.”
If that’s the case, conjectured Malone, the district could end up paying for two principal salaries at McGrath next year: that for Behrmann and her replacement - because of potential litigation. The board didn't respond.
Malone then directed his comments to board president Chris Jones.
“If this woman (Behrmann) had one more year to go on her contract and she has done a fantastic job as you’ve stated (in Patch), what in the world are you doing, throwing her out with a year to go?"
And with that began the first round of "no comments," and its variations, from Jones, the board and Superintendent Dr. Charles Penberthy.
“I can’t respond to any personnel question regarding Kathleen Behrmann,” Jones said.
So went the open-comment period - a monologue from parents while most board members sat poker-faced, listening, but not responding.
“That’s the most frustrating thing about this job,” Penberthy said. “Because we are administration, all we can do is listen. We are bound by confidentiality issues and legal statutes.”
Another parent and former board member, Johanna Winfield Berken, sympathized with the board members, but said they should have more clearly explained that the comment period was for public input, not dialogue.
However, there were a few signs of discontent and emotion among some board members as parents took turns talking during the open comment period.
Board member Dan Williams repeatedly nodded his head in disagreement when one parent, Cindy Manestar, a former PTO president and Behrmann supporter, said that she hoped “that the decision that was made (by the board about Behrmann) was made with all the information, and that they asked questions.”
Williams was the only board member who voted to extend Behrmann’s contract at a closed board meeting last month. Fellow board member Michelle Hassemer was not present for the 1-5 vote.
During the meeting, board member Kathy Glowski seemed visibly upset, face red and downcast, as Manestar continued to talk about Behrmann’s high character, in and out of school, and read a letter of support from another parent.
Manestar also took issue with how the news about a new principal was disseminated: the job was posted on the website on Feb. 14, three days before parents received an email from Penberthy.
Angela Lappin, who has a second-grader at McGrath, spoke highly of Behrmann and wanted to know why her job was posted when she hadn’t agreed to step down.
Again, Jones demurred that, “I can’t address that.”
Mark Wilson sat in the audience, and pressed Jones as to when questions from parents would be answered. Jones again reiterated that he couldn’t respond to any matter regarding personnel.
“We’re not asking you to address this right now, though that would be nice,” said Wilson, before asking when the parents might learn more.
“When the issue has been resolved,” Jones said.
“So when it’s been concluded,” Wilson asked.
“That’s correct,” Jones said.
“So who in fact did you consult with,” Wilson asked.
“I can’t answer that right now,” said Jones, who acknowledged that some might perceive that the issue was mishandled by the board. “I get it,” he said.
“We can’t talk about (a lot of) this stuff,” said board member Keith Rabenberg after the meeting. “It’s a personnel matter, so we can’t. It’s illegal to (do so).”
So what about the contract: was it for one or two years?
“Administrators and principals, as a normal course, have two-year contracts that roll over or they don’t. Since she (Behrmann) has been here for more than two years, you can deduce that at one point in time she at least had a two-year contract,” Rabenberg said.
When pressed if Behrmann’s present contract was for a one or two-year term, Rabenberg responded: “I can’t comment on that.”